Month 7 Day 18
Their small talk ended. Tall Bear placed his dirty silverware on his egg-smeared dish. This is my first time joining this group for a meal, but they’re as uncertain as I am. He glanced at the empty chairs. “They’re not normally late, are they?” Tall Bear asked.
“No,” Della answered.
“Bugalu said to meet them here,” Abdulla stated, pulling her dessert closer. “He never said-”
“Here they are,” Capac interrupted.
Mac sat down heavily and peered through damp, uncombed hair at Capac. She stood up. “Swap with me, Bugs.”
“What did I do?” Capac asked.
Bugalu got up to exchange seats. “She still remembers that card game, Capac.”
“She doesn’t forget that easily. And neither do I.”
“I’d feel the same way, if you invited me to a card game without telling me it was strip poker,” Abdulla told him. “I had serious reservations about including you tonight.”
“I’ve learned my lesson!” Capac stated.
“You better have,” Beth told him coldly. “That lack of respect will keep you from dating for a long time.”
Bugalu turned to study the redhead he called his sister. Her face was pale, with dusky smudges under her eyes. “Speaking of lessons I thought had been learned...”
Mac swallowed her bite of oatmeal as a hint of pink came to her cheeks. “Yes, I had trouble sleeping today. But it wasn’t my fault!”
“You probably stayed up all day to work on your projects,” Bugalu accused.
“No, she didn’t,” Harris refuted. “She was already asleep when we got there.”
“I still can’t grasp why you were there,” Mac told her. “Usually when you go to work, you stay at work. Not bring home some intrusive lieutenant. I think I got 3 minutes of sleep before you guys arrived. Or at least, before I got woke up.”
“What lieutenant?” Abdulla asked.
“Negron,” Beth answered. “Insisted Della had left her computer on.”
“I didn’t. Not this time. But I did neglect to inform Nagging Negron that I had switched computer and desk, way back when. As soon as we walked in, he punched keys on Mac’s computer, which set off this awful noise!”
“Noise?” Bugs grimaced. “I remember the alarms Mac set on Matt’s workpad at the Academy.”
“Same thing,” Mac told him. “Only louder, because I’d be in the next room, asleep.”
Bugs stared at her in shock. “That alarm went off during the night once, and woke up half the dormitory!”
“Good. Then Matt was home.”
“No, he wasn’t. Took me at least 10 minutes to shut it off. And having everybody pounding on my door didn’t help. I thought my head would split.”
The redhead frowned. “You should have kept him home.”
“If it makes you feel better,” Beth stated, “Mac’s head did split. She banged it against her nightstand.”
“Again?” Bugalu asked the redhead.
Mac grimaced. “It’s not a big deal.”
“It’s getting to be. You did it last week, too.”
“And a couple days ago,” Beth inserted. “Della told me Mac was hurt, so I checked on her. Found a gash from this morning, and a smaller one still vividly bruised. Plus a yellow bruise, from last week, I guess.”
“This is out of hand, Mac,” Bugalu stated.
“Today isn’t her fault,” Della stated. “Negron set off her alarm.”
Abdulla gave a frustrated sigh. “Negron. I bet he read her the riot act for leaving her computer on.”
“He tried to. When that didn’t fly, he said she shouldn’t use her computer for ‘personal projects’! Smythe wouldn’t have any of that, either.”
“Smythe was there?” Abdulla asked.
Mac smiled. “He wanted to make sure they didn’t wake me! Didn’t work.” She turned to Bugs. “If he didn’t bawl me out, then you shouldn’t either!”
“Okay, it wasn’t your fault. Negron probably woke your temper, too. It might have taken time to get back to sleep.”
“And then I woke her again,” Temple added.
“At least I didn’t hit my head when you came in,” Mac stated.
“Maybe you should put your head where your feet usually are,” Della suggested. “In case you do fall out of bed again. Or sleep on the sofa. Nothing to bang against in the living room.”
“Couldn’t have done that on a tug.”
“Not with 5 roommates,” Della agreed. “But it’s just 2 of us here, and I don’t object.”
“You had trouble sleeping on the tugs?” Bugalu asked.
“No. I mean... If... someone was unhappy with me, I might work double or triple shifts. But that was a matter of being allowed to sleep, not having difficulty staying asleep.”
“Yeah, I see the difference,” Bugalu agreed. “Thought there might be a clue about your trouble sleeping.”
“I get startled and fall from time to time. Today was particularly bad, getting woke twice, and then I worried somebody would make me shut off my computer when I’m not actively watching it. That would really slow things down, and I’m already impatient.”
“I understand today,” Bugs stated. “But what startled you the other times you fell out of bed?” She hurriedly stuck more oatmeal in her mouth. “Mac?” he asked impatiently.
She swallowed. “Well... unsettling dreams. I know what you think, but these aren’t nightmares! I don’t remember them, but they leave me startled. Or, unsettled. Not scared. Whatever is in the back of my mind, it will pass.”
“You aren’t worried about cross-training, are you?” Bugs asked. “Because whenever Smythe gets around to it, you’re going to ace it.”
“He got around to it today,” Della said. “Told Negron to test her on computers and train her until she passes.”
“He’s starting her cross-training with computers?” Abdulla asked in surprise.
“Negron had such a tizzy about Mac merging 2 programs.”
“They use the same language,” Mac muttered as she buttered her toast.
Della turned to Abdulla. “Get this. The only involvement Smythe wants is to be informed how she does.”
Abdulla’s dusky face froze. “I... don’t know what to think of that.”
“Me, neither,” Della agreed. “It’s very strange.” She finished her iced tea and stood. “See ya. Gotta get ready for my date.”
“I thought we were all hanging out together,” TB stated.
“I told Bugs I’d give you as much time as I could. But I couldn’t promise any more than supper.”
“Have fun,” Beth told her. “It’s been nice chatting. We should do this more often.”
“Just let me know when.” Della picked up her tray and headed out.
“Bugs, you said an evening,” Abdulla stated. “I assume the rest of us agreed without even knowing what was planned. So, what now?”
“I thought we’d spend some together,” he answered. “Mac and I have already seen tonight’s movie.”
“Wasn’t very good,” Mac muttered around a bite of toast.
“I have a couple ideas, and I’m open for suggestions,” Bugs went on. “One, there’s always pool.”
“Swimming,” Capac voted. “Lots of fun.”
“Not swimming,” Bugs told his friend. “I meant pool, billiards. In the rec room.” Mac breathed in relief.
“You won’t catch Mac in the swimming pool, Capac,” TB stated. “She’s a heavy worlder. Gets dizzy in no-g. Apparently, 1g is enough to prevent that.”
“Most the time.” Mac confirmed, and smiled.
“What was your other idea?” Abdulla asked.
“We go to the library and research things to do on Ulseess. Maybe we can avoid spending half our time there finding things to do, and pack more fun into our shoreleave.”
“You haven’t done that yet?” Beth asked. “There’s so many things to choose from, I’m having trouble deciding. Mac, I understand why you avoid the ship’s ‘pool’, but do you swim?”
“I have. As a kid. But I don’t have a suit.”
Abdulla grinned. “Sounds like we need some shopping in our plans. I could use a new suit.”
“Easy to do,” Beth revealed. “Star Port City includes the planet’s largest shopping mall. And the basement of the mall is the planet’s largest water park.”
“What’s the gravity on Ulseess?” Mac asked.
“.985 g,” Beth answered. “Can you handle that?”
“Probably. It’s practically 1 g. So, under the mall is a giant swimming pool?”
“Not a pool, a water park. All sorts of water activities. The travel magazines can give you an idea what it’s like. And if you can’t handle the reduced gravity and the water’s buoyancy combined, you could just sit in a deck chair and enjoy a cold drink and a snack. Great way to relax. Even if no one else goes, I will spend at least 1 afternoon there.”
“I’ll go,” Abdulla stated.
“Why don’t we start with the library?” Mac asked. “Later, we can play pool. Ladies, should we let the men win?”
“Let them?” Beth repeated in surprise and smiled slyly. “You may have something there, Mac. Maybe we should.”
“Do you really want to make it a contest?” Bugs asked the redhead.
“You aren’t any good at arm wrestling, like Matt and I did.” She grinned. “Besides, what do you think I did the last 2 years at the Academy?”
Yeah. They act more like siblings than lovers. As long as things stay that way, maybe I have a chance.